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Mont. Cannabis Tax Backers To Begin Gathering Signatures

By Asha Glover · May 7, 2020, 5:40 PM EDT

Supporters of two proposed Montana ballot measures that would ask voters to legalize and tax recreational marijuana will begin collecting signatures Saturday while employing safety precautions in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the campaign said Thursday.

New Approach Montana, the campaign supporting two ballot measures that would work in tandem to legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana, is launching a statewide signature drive, the campaign announced. Last week a district court rejected the campaign's request to gather signatures online.

The campaign said Thursday that in response to the pandemic it would institute internal public health protocols to limit contact between signature gatherers and petition signers.

One measure, a constitutional amendment, would allow for a law setting a legal age for purchase, consumption or possession of marijuana. The other, the Montana Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, would legalize marijuana use for people 21 and older, establish a 20% excise tax on marijuana sales and reduce the tax on medical marijuana.

"As our state reopens for business, we must also reopen for democracy," Pepper Petersen, New Approach Montana's political director, said in a news release. "Our signature drive will allow Montana voters to exercise their constitutional right to a ballot initiative in a safe and responsible way."

Petition circulators, the campaign said, will be required to wear masks at all times unless on a break and will provide signers with single-use wrapped pens and disposable gloves, to be discarded after each signature. Circulators must stay 6 feet away from members of the public at all times, the campaign said.

In addition, it said, circulators will be provided with disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer while in the field and single-use, disposable clear plastic bags each day containing petitions, pens, gloves, masks and other supplies. Signature gatherers also will be required to wear gloves to handle signed petitions.

If voters approve the ballot measures on Nov. 3, recreational marijuana sales are estimated to raise about $48 million in tax revenue annually by 2025, according to the campaign. Medical marijuana is currently legal in the state under a measure voters approved in 2004 and is subject to a 4% tax rate.

To qualify for the ballot, the constitutional amendment will need to gather 50,936 signatures, and the legislative act will need 25,468 signatures, the campaign said. The signature deadline for both measures is June 19.

The signature-gathering effort follows a district court's denial last week of New Approach Montana's request for injunctive relief allowing the campaign to collect signatures online. New Approach's complaint, lodged against Secretary of State Corey Stapleton on April 6, had contended that barring organizers from collecting digital signatures during the pandemic violated their constitutional rights to enact laws by initiative as well as the U.S. Constitution's First and 14th Amendments.

The campaign had also asked the court to suspend statutes that establish some administrative deadlines for initiative petitions, such as the June 19 deadline to file petitions with county election offices for signature verification, and enforce only the Aug. 3 deadline to file petitions with Stapleton's office.

"We were disappointed in that ruling," Petersen said in Thursday's news release. "At this juncture, we believe that a conventional signature drive is a viable path to ballot qualification."

Representatives of Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and Stapleton did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

--Editing by John Oudens.

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